Luisa Restrepo Essay
Fall 2010 Fellow
Luisa Restrepo, a Fall, 2010 Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, believes that the art of ornamentation and “the mastery of the maker” should be recognized and respected. She says, “There is a misconception within the craft field, the concept that the search for perfection in the past led to tools to achieve perfection with speed and mechanical repetitiveness and that work made this way is [better because it‟s] more accurate.” Restrepo feels that objects of daily life can no longer be truly appreciated because they do not embody the artistry of individual makers.
“Back in the day when there was no machinery so much time was spent on the objects that would surround us. The maker spent time on the piece and spent time studying to reach a level of mastery. I‟m not criticizing but today a chair [for example] has become an action instead of an object. When you look at the phone, you don‟t think, „It‟s white plastic made in China by injection,‟ you just think, „I have to make a call.‟”
Plato, she points out, sought to define the essence of the useful things people make. He knew that a table will have four legs and a top, but “the shape of an object is no longer part of everyday reality.”
Today artists often value performance over made things because performance is an action. Art performance once challenged, shocked or even antagonized the public. Now it is institutionalized in the art world and, consequently, often less meaningful. In her own performance art Restrepo avoids over-rehearsed, rote repetition, She feels that the artist‟s recognition of the moment and immersion in it is a key to avoiding superficiality. “The moment is a moment and you connect to the audience and to the moment.”
This relationship to the moment is intrinsic to art production. Repetition is also a meaningful aspect of art making. Repeated forms are the consequence of repeated actions. What the artist does in the studio is authentic because it‟s driven by an inner intention to make something, not an externalized conformity to what an audience expects. In her own work Restrepo says, “I‟m totally into repetition.” She finds satisfaction in physical work even when it‟s tiring and uncomfortable. She has to stand for hours with a sandblaster to “carve” the cameo-like glass reliefs that are part of her current work.
She does not personally execute every step of the process. She makes the intricate designs on the computer and has them transferred to vinyl. Then she takes over and uses the vinyl silhouettes to mask sheets of glass that she sandblasts. “It‟s a time-consuming activity nevertheless. I have to grind down the glass so it will hold the design.” Then she has to remove various thickness of glass to form fields of intricate modular designs.
The spiraling linear, nature-related forms somehow sidestep questions of prettiness. Often mounted onto another surface in a modular pattern to form a delicate, lacy patterned sheet, the works are unapologetically beautiful; but they are more. Some are based on skeletal structures and plant forms, like those recorded by Ernst Haeckel. There are also echoes of ancient Celtic ornament (intended or not), of
Art Nouveau (a nature-inspired movement), Gothic decoration and numerous other cultural references including Chinese.
Restrepo envisions these forms as “fractions of the human body” and “two-dimensional representations of the passing time.” She says, “If you were to fraction the pattern of a falling leaf with snapshots you would get a pattern of the organic rhythms that complete a whole movement. Even though the leaves are moving randomly there is a rhythm to it and it‟s the same rhythm. I worked with that for awhile: seeing the shapes, the final composition the thing that is movement.”
In one recent group of sculptures she places rough cast spheres of glass into meandering, radiating frames of copper wire. The result looks almost like a representation of photosensitive ganglion cells, a recently discovered type of nerve cell in the retina of the mammalian eye. She wraps the sinuous strands of wire with black thread “using Native American binding techniques with no knots to interrupt the flow of energy within the piece. There is no beginning and no end so the pieces can grow.” The glass balls at the intersections of the wrapped wire capture the light, emphasizing the possible relationship to the mechanics of sight.
As she explores the repeated, graceful and startling forms of nature, Restrepo questions the boundaries of possibility. The human body, the natural form with which we are most familiar, is capable of more than we usually ask or expect. How far can we venture from the ordinary to the extraordinary? And what might we learn?